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Posts Tagged ‘Blue Jay Feather’

This post will be the last with ice in it for a while, but scenes like this one were still common just two or three weeks ago. Beaver lodges can be quite big, with the floor a couple of inches above the water level. On the floor they scatter a 2 or 3 inch deep bed of dry leaves, grass, shredded wood and other materials to keep the floor dry. They don’t hibernate. They can swim under the ice but they can’t hold their breath forever so they can’t stray far from their lodges in winter. Their winter food is green branches and twigs they anchor into the soft mud around the lodge. When hungry they dislodge a branch, which stay green in the cold winter water, and drag it into the lodge.

This winter I’ll remember for its ice. It was everywhere. It was terrible to walk on but often beautiful to see.

But ice melts, and in this photo it is doing just that on Half Moon Pond in Hancock. The ice usually melts off around mid-April but this year it happened about two weeks early due to above average temperatures and record breaking warmth.

This snowbank raised what looked like a defiant fist and seemed to say “I will not melt”! But it did melt; they all did.

In fact the ice and snow melted so fast the sign removal people couldn’t keep up.

The Canada geese knew the thaw was coming and they were here almost immediately after the ice melted. Many ducks have returned as well, and I’ve heard spring peepers, wood frogs, red winged blackbirds, and the beautiful but sorrowful sounding fee-bee mating call of male black capped chickadees.

I’ve been watching buds, like this blueberry bud. It always amazes me that a plant with blue fruit can have so much red in it. I think the white stripe running up the stem and around the base of the bud might have been frost.

Lilac buds can also have a lot of red in them. They’re starting to swell noticeably now.

Red elderberry buds are also getting bigger by the day. The deep purple fingers of unfurling leaves are beautiful as they come from their buds in the spring. It won’t be long now.

I think the buds of sweet gale have elongated some but they’re so small it’s hard to tell. They’re pretty little things. This small, very aromatic shrub is also called bog rosemary. I find it on the shorelines of ponds along with leatherleaf, alder and rhodora.

How beautiful the leaves of swamp dewberry are in spring before they turn green and start photosynthesizing. Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which are evergreen. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

We lost a huge old pine tree where I work and I wanted to get photos of it because if you look closely you can see that the bottom half was completely hollow. A big pine like this one fell on a friend’s barn a few years ago and cut it right in half. A snow blower parked inside was crushed down to a jumble of mashed metal.

The scary part of this tree falling was how it fell right next to one of our roads. Thankfully there was no one going by at the time. When it fell it took two or three other smaller trees with it.

I saw a small delicate feather stuck on the bark of a tree and wondered if it might be a nuthatch breast feather. We have lots of them where I work. The rose breasted nuthatches are so fearless that one day I almost stepped on one. I’m glad I saw it at the last minute.

Blue jays stayed here all winter long; the first time I’ve ever seen this. And there were large flocks of them. Many people in the area were commenting about how unusual it was.

I found a beech leaf and a pinecone twirling slowly in the breeze at the end of a strand of spider silk. Since both leaves and cones fall from trees I’m guessing that they fell through a spider’s web. I’ve read that spider silk is five times as strong as the same diameter thread made of steel. I’ve also read that, if you had a piece of spider silk the same diameter as a pencil, it would be strong enough to stop a Boeing 747 in flight. It’s always good to have a little awe in our lives, I think.  

Here is one of the strangest things I’ve ever found in the woods. I said “Oh, a bird’s nest” and walked over to it. I could see bits of yarn and string like a bird would use but something didn’t look right. It was too perfectly round.

And it was as hard as a rock. That’s because it was a ball with the outer covering torn off. If you’ve ever taken the covering off a baseball you’ve seen this same thing, because this was indeed the inside of a baseball.

The inside had been hollowed out like a bird’s nest and I have to say that I have no idea how it got its outer covering removed or how it got stuck in the crotch of a willow tree. Did someone hit a homerun that landed in a tree? Did someone put it there hoping birds would nest in it? It’s a mystery to me.

Tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuatus) does just what its name sounds like it would; it grows at the base of trees and makes them look like they’re wearing green stockings. It can also grow on soil or stone and can form extensive mats. This was a beautiful example of it. Jut look how it glows.

Tree skirt moss grows up to 3 feet high around the bases of hardwoods, especially oaks. Knowing where certain mosses prefer growing, whether on soil, stone or wood, can help with identifying them. This moss is very changeable and changes its appearance depending on how dry it is. This example was moist and happy.

This one is for Ginny, who last fall said she couldn’t imagine what a leaf pile the size of a box truck would look like. These are all the leaves that were collected last season where I work.

Of course the pile has settled some over the winter but that’s still a lot of leaves. It takes three full months to collect them all; maple, birch, basswood, oak and beech mostly, and once they decompose we use the resulting compost for lawn patches and what have you. You can just see the top of an older pile in the background that we have dug into.

My little friend here and his cousins try to collect all the acorns and pinecones that fall but we had another mast year and there must be millions of both still left to cleanup. I’ve read that mast years happen when the trees are stressed and I’d guess that drought over the past couple of years would have stressed them severely.

I do hope everyone has a healthy and happy Easter and I hope the sun shines for you, wherever you are.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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1-stream-ice

I visited the otter pond recently, trying to figure out how he would come and go. This small stream feeds into the pond but it’s too shallow and narrow for an otter to swim in. It had some beautiful patterns in its ice though.

2-icy-pond

The reason I wondered about the otter is because its pond is completely frozen over with no holes like there were the last time I saw it in December. Where do otters go when this happens, I wonder?

3-stress-cracks

All of the thawing and re-freezing has left the ice as smooth as glass, but the warm weather has made it too thin to skate on. The two dark spots show little to no thickness and there were thin ice signs where people skate. I’m sure there are a few dozen frustrated skaters it town because of it.

4-burdocks

I saw some burdocks and remembered how Swiss engineer George de Mestral got the idea for Velcro from the sticky burrs lodged in his dog’s coat. I wondered why I didn’t think of such things.

5-burdock

This is where the hook part of the “hook and loop” Velcro fasteners came from. I’ve never seen it happen but I’ve heard that small birds can get caught in burdocks and then can’t escape. That could be why there were no seeds missing from these examples; maybe the birds have learned to stay away. According to John Josselyn, a visitor from England in 1672, the burdock came to this country as burrs tangled in cow’s tails, but if that is true then how did Native Americans know the plant so well? They used the entire plant as food or medicine and made a candy-like treat from burdock roots by slicing them and boiling them in maple syrup. They stored much of it for winter.

6-coneflower-seed-head

Birds aren’t staying away from coneflower seeds. I always let coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) go to seed. Goldfinches, cardinal, blue jays and other birds love to eat them. I’ve never seen a bird on them but the seeds disappear and there is often a pair of blue jays in the yard.  Many butterflies and bees also love its flowers, so if you’re looking to attract the birds and bees, this is one plant that will do it. The Echinacea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word echinos, which means hedgehog, and refers to the spiny seed head.

7-british-soldier-lichen

An old pine stump was red with British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella.) This lichen also grows on bark or soil and is often seen where people live because it is extremely tolerant of pollution. Because of that and its bright red color it is said to be the best known lichen in the eastern United States. I’ve even seen it growing on buildings.

8-british-soldier-lichen

The spore bearing apothecia of the British Soldier is very red with a matte rather than shiny surface. The biggest among this grouping could have easily hidden under a pea.

9-sidewalk-firedot-lichen

If you spend time walking along stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it. This is the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it.

10-sidewalk-firedot-lichen

A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was made up of mostly irregularly shaped fruiting bodies, so it was making plenty of spores. I think this is the first time I’ve seen it do so.

11-scattered-rock-posy-2

I had to visit my old friend the scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) that I’ve been watching grow for several years now. It has gone from penny to quarter size (0.75-0.95 in) and is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) I always find them growing on stone in full sun. This is a lichen that never seems to stop producing spores; its orange pad like apothecia are always there.

12-blueberry-buds

If you’re stuck in the winter doldrums and feel the need for some color, just find a blueberry bush; everything about them is red, except the berries. Part of the reason the earliest English settlers survived New England winters in Plymouth was because the Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe showed them how to dry blueberries for winter use. Natives used the dried berries in soups and stews and as a rub for meat. They also made tea from the dried leaves. More than 35 species of blueberries are native to the U.S.

13-amber-jelly

Amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) have started to appear on downed trees and limbs. You can’t tell from this photo because these examples were frozen solid but this fungus has a shiny side and a matte finish side. The spores are produced on the shiny side and if I understand what I’ve read correctly, this is true of most jelly fungi. This one has the color of jellied cranberry sauce. Jelly fungi can absorb up to 60 times their weight in water, so if a weakened branch is covered with them as this oak limb was, it doesn’t take much of a wind to bring the heavily weighted branch and the jelly fungi to the ground. Jelly fungi are a signal that the tree’s health isn’t good.

14-indian-pipe-seed-head

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) seed pods look like beautiful carved wooden flowers that have been stuck into the snow. Most have split open by now into 5 separate parts to release tens of thousands of seeds to the wind. Each individual seed is only ten cells thick. Indian pipes are parasitic on certain fungi, which in turn are often parasitic on the roots of trees so in a roundabout way they get their food from trees.

15-tinder-fungi

Tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius), also called horse hoof fungus, grew on a fallen log, but didn’t grow on the tree while it was standing. I know this because their spore bearing surfaces pointed towards the ground. If they had grown before the tree fell then their spore bearing surfaces would appear perpendicular rather than parallel to the ground. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that as many as 800 million can be produced in a single hour. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by none other than the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE).

16-twisted-log

I’ve searched and searched for the answer to why some trees twist when they grow and the short answer seems to be; nobody really knows. What is known is that the wood is often weaker and boards cut from spiral grained trees often twist as they dry, yet while the tree is standing it is more limber than a straight grained tree and is better able to withstand high winds. Scientists have also found that spiral growth can be left or right handed and both can sometimes appear on the same tree. Though spiral growth appears in the trunk, limbs and roots of some trees you often can’t see it until the bark comes off.

17-ice-on-a-log

It’s easy to believe that a fallen tree is just an old dead thing that is slowly rotting away but as the icicles on this example show, there is life in it yet.

18-raspberry-cane-2

It’s always a pleasure to see the beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes in winter. The color is caused by a powdery wax which can protect the plant from sunburn, prevent moisture loss, or help shed excess water. In botanical terms, a plant part that looks like this is said to be glaucous, which describes the whitish blue color.

19-blue-jay-feather

The blue of this blue jay feather rivaled that of the black raspberry cane. I don’t see many blue feathers so I was happy to see this one.

20-blue-jay-feather

I was even happier when I looked a little closer. Seeing it up close revealed many things about blue jay feathers that I didn’t know. Chief among them was how very beautiful they are.

To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.  One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. ~ Oscar Wilde

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